Meeting to be the last hurrah

The future of Western Australia’s retail landscape is under scrutiny as lobbyists from across the country descend on WA to pitch their arguments in favour of retail trading hour deregulation. Julie-anne Sprague and Tracey Cook investigate whether those arguments really stack up.

A MEETING on May 29 of key industry stakeholders with the Western Australian Government is the last act before the curtain closes on months of debate over whether WA’s retail trading hours should be deregulated.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet have invited between 30 and 40 stakeholders to the Constitution Centre to discuss issues raised in submissions to its retail trading hour public consultation paper from industry groups.

It wraps up years of lobbying by national retailers and will force the Liberal Party to announce its standing on the issue.

The Liberal Party has called for the State Government to keep its promise to voters to maintain shopping hours during this term. While WA’s Liberals have yet to announce a policy, Deputy Opposition leader Dan Sullivan told WA Business News he would never deregulate WA’s retail trading laws under the current industrial relations system.

The Gallop Government, which says it has been forced to consider breaking this election promise because of the National Competition Council, may need the Liberal Party’s support if it is to push change through Parliament.

The NCC has been on the heels of every State Government that has not deregulated its retail trading hours since its inception in 1995.

Victoria deregulated in 1996, Queensland partially deregulated in 2002, Tasmania in January this year, and on May 26 the South Australian Government announced it would introduce legislation to extend weeknight trading hours and introduce Sunday trading.

That leaves WA as the only State with regulated trading hours. The NCC says WA’s retail regulation is anti-competitive and has threatened to withhold a portion of competition policy funding ($72 million goes to WA) if it fails to offer equal trading hours to all traders or put up a convincing public interest argument otherwise. 

The proponents for deregulation seem to think so. The big end of town, including Coles Myer, Woolworths, and shopping centre developers, claim there is strong consumer demand for extended retail trading hours and that WA’s current legislation is anti-competitive and stifles development and investment.

However, WA Business News has obtained figures that the two main property trust players in WA have spent more than $86 million on shopping centre purchases in the past two years.

And 2003-04 retail development is expected to be more than 133,000 square metres. Woolworths plans to build a $90 million distribution centre and has several new stores planned to open in the next two years. However, it has said it would stall plans to open electronics superstores.

Major retailers say that Sunday is one of the biggest trading days in other States and suggest it would be a big shopping day in WA.

According to the WA Retailers Association small retailers that currently operate the same hours as the major chains will suffer the economic burden of significant wage  and rent increases that will put many out of business.

The WA Independent Grocers’ Association says that because its members can currently open on a Sunday and have extended week-night trade they can be competitive with the major chains.

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